A week ago, music blog Stereogum weighed in on the “secret weapon” of Mumford and Sons: frontman Marcus Mumford’s right foot. Or, more specifically, the kick drum at the front of the stage that keeps time on the majority of the band’s songs.
Seeing them perform night one of a sold-out two-night stand at Susquehanna Bank Center last night, it was immediately evident how integral that kick drum is. For a pop-rock band with folksy instrumentation (upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar), the London band sounded more massive with just its four core members – Mumford, banjo player Winston Marshall, keyboardist Ben Lovett and bassist Ted Dwane – then it did with the horns and strings and full-kit percussionists that joined them on the set centerpieces like “Lover of the Light.”
Foot-stomp beats are common in the folk revival – from Philly’s Hoots and Hellmouth and Columbus, Ohio’s Saintseneca up to bigger names like The Avett Brothers. With Mumford, it breaks through to another plane. On those scaled-back moments, the beat was at its strongest; pulsing, resonant and easy to get swept away in.
Maybe they just happen to be in possession of the best kick drum microphone on earth. Or maybe it’s Mumford’s way of keeping things direct and engaging for the crowd. Their folk-pop peers The Lumineers, we saw a few weeks ago, are the band everyone sings along to. Mumford and Sons are the band everyone claps along to – and the kick guides their way.
The setlist was lively and diverse, mixing the band’s trademark high-drama crescendos (the opening one-two punch of “Babel” and “Little Lion Man”) with quiet breathers (the nearly a capella “Timshel” and its lovely four-part harmonies) and moments of utter bombast (the minor key “Thistle and Weeds”, where video screens atop the stage made it possible to watch sweat bead up on Mumford’s forehead in black and white HD). The loudest numbers necessitated the greatest recovery periods, and the band would take longs pauses between many songs. But the crowd had their back – clapping in time over the silence, awaiting the next kick drum entry.
“Holland Road” was a high point, combining Mumford’s brooding, dramatic tendencies with an affirmative melody on the refrain; “Roll Away Your Stone” had a hoedown energy to it, with Lovett and Dwane leaping in the air on either side of the stage; and the bright “Whispers in the Dark” was a crowd-pleaser, with lots of hands in the air and hand-made signs being waved around. (Reportedly, a music video for “Whispers” was being filmed at this show.) “Dust Bowl Ballad” ended the main set on kind of a downer, Mumford behind the full kit bashing out intense, cave man beats under deep red light. But the encore revived the mood.
After early hit single “The Cave,” the band brought opening acts Ben Howard and Haim out on stage. “Well, we’re technically in New Jersey,” Mumford said – he was minimally conversational all night, mostly just chatting to point out that they knew they were in Camden and not Philly – and with that final acknowledgement, they launched into an eight-minute, elegant jam on Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” swapping verses and instrumental solos while the crowd sang (and clapped) along. Tune in to WXPN tonight beginning at 8 p.m. to hear a broadcast of tonight’s Mumford and Sons concert.
Little Lion Man
Below My Feet
White Blank Page
I Will Wait
Lover of the Light
Thistle and Weeds
Ghosts That We Knew
For Those Below
Roll Away Your Stone
Whispers In The Dark
Dust Bowl Dance